The Prophet – Michael Koryta

Adam and Kent Austin had a little sister. One night, instead of getting a lift from Adam, because he was otherwise engaged with his girlfriend, she walked home. She never made it.

Haunted by that tragic past, each brother has grown older and tried to deal with the murder of their sister in their own way. Kent is the high school football team coach, and Adam is a bail bondsman. They live in the same town, but are distant and apart. Kent is the one the community looks up to. Adam is the one keeping his sister’s memory alive – as he would have it – by maintaining her bedroom as a kind of shrine, and confiding in her.

Now, twenty years on, a young girl comes to Adam for help. This sets off a chain reaction that tears apart the world of both of the brothers, and their community of Chambers, Ohio.

The author’s characterization, especially of the brothers, is top notch. The story telling is excellent, with one caveat: I enjoyed the American Football sequences. But a reader with no interest in that sport will be derailed temporarily. It may have been better to cut these, or to, er, tackle them in a different manner. The author does explain, in a note at the end, the significance of the football content, and it works for me. But it will not work for everyone.

While I remember, in reading the book I got a good sense of the community the author was describing. I thought his portrayal of family connections and strains was realistic and sharply observed. He did not waste time in clever asides, but the thoughtful reflections of his characters never seemed indulgent nor out of place.

Do not be misled, though, for this is a real page turner. While the plot is neither complex nor tortuous, there is a great big ball of dark, dark atmosphere hanging over and around you as you read it. There’s action and violence and at least one sharp twist of the author’s knife. Indeed, the author skilfully plays on your heart strings and delivers the sure fire mark of a good read: I was sad to get to the end.

I know little of the author’s other work beyond So Cold the River, but this raising of the standard will set me looking. I can hear my Kindle getting ready as I type this!

In short, recommended.

Score: 7/10

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SO COLD THE RIVER

I bought this book by Michael Koryta because of the front cover quote from one of my all time favourite authors – Dennis Lehane – who pronounced: “An icy, terrifying winner. Few novelists warrant mention alongside Stephen King or Peter Straub, Michael Koryta, however, earns comparison to both.” I have been badly misled by such marketing quotes before, but even though I bought the book without reading the back cover, had I done so that would have only increased my desire to buy. Why? It quotes another of my favourite authors – Michael Connelly – saying “The book builds like a summer storm. Beautiful to watch until it shakes the house and knocks out the lights… Masterful.” So, now that I have read the book, it’s time to report: good, bad, or indifferent?

One time rising star film-maker Eric Shaw makes a living from vanity documentary films about dead people. The deceased may have gone, but their friends and family can remember them and celebrate their life with a film from Eric. He accepts a commission to make a documentary about the (still living) millionaire Campbell Bradford. From his meeting with Bradford, he becomes involved in the mystery of the man’s early life, and the secret of the old bottle of water he has kept. Bradford dies. Shaw then travels to Bradford’s hometown and gets sucked into strange happenings and an evil awakening.

This is a modern horror story which does chill, and just about delivers a high quality reading experience. The pacing is good, and the characters are mostly interesting. I found Kellen Cage (Shaw’s sidekick) to be the one main character that least involved me; it was almost as if this individual was brought in to offer potential plot lines that were not followed up, or edited out to keep the length of the book down. However, Eric Shaw, his wife and the main protagonist are well put together and interesting.

The story is told well, and the final explanation that puts all the pieces together, is believable and comprehensive; you cannot ask for more than that. Except that this was, I thought, a horror story, and it wasn’t very frightening. (For example, Stephen King’s “It”; now that was frightening!) This book was atmospheric and interesting, but didn’t pull me in enough – or at least as much as I might have expected from the marketing promise. In short, it did not deliver for me what Lehane and Connelly promised. Your experience may differ.

I enjoyed this book, and will probably read more by the same author as he develops his career. But, for now, he is one of the pack, rather than a leader.

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